The Importance of Obliqueness in Cartomancy

“Dr. Erickson looks like the popular concept of a hypnotist with his extraordinary dark eyes and his grey hair and moustache… a specialist and the nation’s leading medical hypnotist”.
Milton Erickson was not a man of hypnosis paraphernalia or techniques, he did not use the methods popular at the time of the spinning disk or swinging light. Instead, he would induce trance by merely sitting down and having a conversation with a person.

Milton Erickson (1901–1980) was a psychiatrist, and likely the greatest hypnotherapist of the 20th century.

Storytelling was one of his signature ‘treatment’ methods. He would start going off on long ‘tangents’ to his patients, telling one story after another, leaving the patient thinking, “now what does this have to do with me?”

The story could be about a runaway horse from his childhood in a farm.

Or how much he hates Nazis.

The patient would walk away, dazed, even angry sometimes — he was not afraid of provoking strong emotions — but they would walk out seemingly magically free of the problem they came in with… whether it was infertility, paralysis, or depression.

A common denominator to those stories of Erickson’s therapeutic encounter is that, as a reader reading them from a book many decades after his death, I can piece together the metaphoric relevance after the fact.

But if you were the patient in the situation, you would not think, “oh, he’s talking about me and my issue. That horse from his childhood is a stand-in for my conscious will.”


There is enough randomness in his story to make it oblique and opaque. In fact, the success of the encounter hinges on that obliqueness.

I find this to be an important piece. If the relevance is obvious, it becomes another lecture — in other words, something you can think about ‘rationally’ and resist.

From 3 of diamonds to six of spades to queen of spades, we see a cooling, a doubling, and then a royal metamorphosis. (UUSI Pagan Limited Edition Playing Card Deck.)

One of the problems with the way a lot of people do tarot is that they look at the cards and jump to the place of, “oh, this means X for me.

They come for the cards to get answers, and go back only with the echo of their biases.

In other words, the story they tell themselves about the cards doesn’t have enough oblique randomness.

If only Milton Erickson could tell them about the cards, he would make the story of each card very surprising, seeing each act of seeing as independent and separate.

Erickson says that hypnosis is not an end in itself, but merely creates a favorable climate in which to learn.

The correct feeling we should have when we look at a card is not, “oh, this means X; now my question is answered,” but: “now, what in the hell does this image have to do with me?”

That’s when we can make interesting connections, pave new neural pathways and break out of habitual ways of thinking and feeling.

If we come to the cards for a change, then there is little reason to settle for less than that surprise.